This Progressive Thinks Libertarians Are In Charge – Opting Out

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libertarians, progressives

Lately, “libertarian” is the catchall pejorative for anybody in politics who is at least a mild free market liberal. From Boris Johnson and Paul Ryan to the people that run the EU, it’s for the progressive liberal perspective, the monied elite. These right-wing ideologues, “know the price of everything but the value of nothing.”

These advocates of “trickle-down economics” intend to remove all public infrastructure to sell to billionaire investors so they can use the profits to buy 9 new yachts. They want to strip all regulations back, and trade with third world nations to foist terrible products on to the population. They are mates with big sugar and would do anything to make our rapidly more obese children get even fatter. They really hate the poor.

Sounds like a shady group, eh? Except they don’t actually exist in real life.

This is a scapegoat – it describes no person, living or dead, nor any identifiable worldview. Yet these “libertarians” are supposed to be totally integrated into the political establishment and represent the mainstream. These Elites are essentially Hayek and von Mises’ intellectual heirs, run everything, and smear and smash opposition.

Meanwhile, the real-life libertarians in England, all 11 of us, listen to this story mystified. Boris, with his host of spending pledges which would fit nicely into a Tony Blair or Ed Miliband manifesto, is a third-way-er. He sort of likes markets, but he has no qualms at all with interventions that affect every aspect of our lives.

Case-in-point for this “libertarians are the fault of everything bad in this country, and they should feel bad,” perspective is a recent segment on IBC Radio with Mr James O’Brien, who’s well up in S Tier in terms of irritating political pundits. 

O’Brien’s shtick is railing passionately against low-hanging fruit – racists and idiot immigration-hawks from the working class opinionated folk who call into his show from places like Stevenage. With an army of fact-checkers in his ear, he runs circles around his poor stupid guests.

If for once they have a decent point to make, O’Brien sighs petulantly – why must this brilliant brain be bothered by such rubes? He looks perpetually depressed. Man needs to sit up straight and learn some economics. 

Anyway, O’Brien’s theme in this segment is that now Boris Johnson’s Conservatives has a sizeable enough majority to do some actual business in parliament. They can do what they want. Once we’re out of the EU, O’Brien says, the target is the NHS and the BBC.

The reason why these institutions are under so much scrutiny, he says, is not because of any particular fault in them per se, but because of what they represent. The NHS and the BBC do not need to be beholden to stock holders (and James thinks this is a good thing, claiming that investors don’t do anything, merely let their money make money. He obviously doesn’t comprehend the perennial problem in markets of risk). 

They’re public institutions meant to serve the public. Boris and his “right-wing libertarian” army find that offensive, and wish to change them so that their rich buddies can squeeze as much money out of them as possible. 

Let’s just say for the sake of argument, against most evidence, that Boris’ cabinet are basically Ayn Rand reincarnate. At no point in this segment does he tell us what exactly the BBC and NHS do that is so great. He merely points to the fact that there are some people out there that wish to introduce more profit motive into them as ipso-facto evil and sociopathic.

There are some things that are more important than money, he says. I’m sure there are, but that says nothing about whether these particular institutions would be better run if they were reformed, or left as they are.

The BBC is harder to make the case for rescuing, seeing as just about everybody is unhappy with it. The bias is in the eye of the beholder, but everyone can see that its structure and funding methods are bloated, out-dated, and inefficient. In the 21st Century world of Netflix and Disney +, the idea of a state broadcaster operating an almost monopoly on television provision seems bizarre and out of place. 

Again, O’Brien gives us no reason why we should like the BBC. He just wants us to know he cares more about people that libertarians do. That very well may be the case; let’s say he’s basically a Care Bear, that still doesn’t justify the BBC’s existence in its current form.

He claims the Tories would make it so that the rich could get better medical care than the poor. Apparently, billionaires hate that the poor get care for free. The profit motive in the NHS would create inequality.

The point that free-market think tanks make, that reforms to the NHS on market lines will likely make outcomes better for all, is never addressed. It’s the mere idea of profit, the concept of a single soul making money from it, that’s offensive and outrageous.

Now look, I’m not about to claim there are no free-market inclined folks in the top rungs of British politics. There very well may be reforms of both the NHS and the BBC in the near future, despite widespread opposition. 

What gets in the way of meaningful reform that would please most people, if not the fundamental liberal revolution that people at Being Libertarian would prefer, is this hysterical view that elevates free-market libertarianism a la Hayek and von Mises to the Borg. It’s an influence among many.

It would also help to learn what libertarianism is, and why people think a free society might be a good idea

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.